Christmas in Turkey.
Christmas is a magical time of year if you celebrate it, no matter where you are in the world. Yes, Turkey is a Muslim country. It doesn’t celebrate Christmas, it celebrates New Year. The 25th and 26th of December are normal days here. Schools, banks and government offices are open, there are no Christmas films on TV and no Queens Speech. There’s no extended Eastenders, no mountain of mince pies stacked high at the entrance to Migros (supermarket), no super-sized party packs of frozen nibbles, Bombay mix and vol-au-vents, and you would be lucky to spot a Christmas card or overly fairy-lit home anywhere outside a tourist resort, major city or ex-pat home. But in saying all this, it doesn’t mean that Christmas doesn’t exist here in Turkey, just that it’s a different kind of Christmas. Festivities in Turkey are a lot more about what you make them rather than a pre-packed Christmas with all the ingredients at hand – but that in itself makes it fairly special 🙂
A different take on Christmas
I have always loved this time of the year and all the tinsel and faff that goes with it. Although Unal is Muslim, he is happy for the boys and me to watch endless Santa movies on Netflix, position twin-elves strategically around the house daily, ponce about singing carols and write letters telling Santa all the wonderful things we want as we’ve been so good the last year (see my letter here). Even Unals parents come down from Bursa, 10 hours away, to celebrate Christmas with us since we had the kids. I’m sure initially they were just intrigued as to what all the fuss was about, but now they love watching the excitement build in the boys as the advent calendar chocolates get less and less and they know they’ll get a bunch of gifts soon – if they’re on best behaviour of course!
So what happens in Turkey at Christmas?
Pre-Turkey, Christmas in Birmingham and Cambridge was all about parties, enjoying time with friends and family, fighting through the Xmas queues, and collapsing for a nap on the sofa after a mammoth fill of food and an obscene amount of Dads brandy sauce. Here in Turkey, we do the same – just minus the queues and with the knowledge that we can pop to the shops and get anything we want if we run out as everything is still open.
Although you don’t see the number of street decorations you get in the UK, you do still see Christmas trees, but they are not decorated for Christmas, but for New Year. There are a lot of ex-pats around Fethiye so many of the bars in resorts like Ovacik and Calis have embraced Christmas serving fully loaded festive menus in a savvy effort to boost winter trade. Many of the ex-pat bars also throw Christmas Eve parties, show the festive sport on TV and have music and entertainment to help everyone get in the mood – plus boost takings.
What do we do in Turkey on Christmas Day?
Last year was a wet and windy Christmas, but previous years the weather has been good so we have packed a few drinks, cookies and the obligatory red pom-pom hats and taken to the beach. Invariably there are a few like-minded souls, all silly jumpered up wielding a glass of Chrimbo punch or supping on a little mulled wine.
Dinner wise we normally buy a turkey or a roast joint a few days before and have it cooking in the wood burning stove until we return. We prep all the veggies and trimmings the night before; sprouts, spuds, veg, stuffing or yorkies – all the necessities found easily and locally. The only thing we miss off the menu is parsnips as they simply don’t seem to grow here (?), and pork due to the Muslim contingency around the table (you can get bacon and sausages from the import shops locally should you wish to make piggy blankets 😉 ).
Mince pies and Christmas puddings are harder to come by, as are traditional loaded fruitcakes. When it comes to these you have to be a little creative. There are a few talented local ex-pats that sell homemade goodies online via Facebook Groups, or via contacts in ex-pat bars, failing that you need to get organised and rustle up the goodies yourself. Christmas pud and mincemeat is remarkably easy to make if you follow a recipe, the BBC Food website is always a good bet, or you could persuade a friend to bring your festive fill over from home if you’re expecting visitors.
Pre-Christmas Local Events
On the run-up to Christmas, it’s worth keeping an eye on the local press and Facebook groups. Here, Fethiye Times, Land of Lights, FB groups like Fethiye Ex-Pat Zone, Friends of Fethiye and many others tend to publicise what’s going on. There’s a couple of yearly Christmas fairs run by a local children’s charities, 3C’s and FIG. The largest takes place in Calis along the beachfront normally on the first or second Sunday of December. The seafront springs to life with all manner of craft stalls, expats and locals selling homemade goodies, many with a decidedly festive feel. Here is a good bet if you are on the hunt for a Christmas cake or mince pies or anything Christmas related for the home (decorations, tinsel, ornaments, silly reindeer jumpers). There’s also a little Santas grotto that Santa himself sits in, turning up in true style to a chorus of carols and cheers from the kids.
The local community church also holds carol and traditional services over the Christmas period and local kids clubs hold Christmas parties for various ages in restaurants, bars or homes locally.
Now this is a party! Turks love New Year, it’s a national holiday and there are celebrations all over. Restaurants and bars put on entertainment (if a popular venue do book in advance), and create elaborate menus and buffets for guests. There’s normally dancing, music, singing, belly dancing, fireworks – you name it, just a lot of socialising and seeing in the New Year in style with family and friends. The local council normally also old events or concerts.
Turks, being the hospitable lot they are, also love inviting friends and family to their homes. You are normally guaranteed a huge spread of sweets, cakes, pastries, borek and an endless amount of cay (tea), or alcohol for those that drink it. They dress up, watch singing and cabaret shows on TV and come midnight, watch the television footage of the big celebrations in Istanbul, Ankara and all over the world. It’s a fun time however you spend it, and you’re sure to have a great time.
So how are you spending your Christmas and New Year? Are you a foreigner in Turkey? What do you make of the festivities here? Do you miss home or lap up the lack of queues and holiday hype? With the big event just a few days away now, I just want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, wherever you are in the world and a healthy and happy new year. Thanks for reading the blog, its still in its early stages so please think about signing up below, commenting, may be contributing (?) and pop back to check out our new content regularly 🙂